The California Legislature will consider a bipartisan bill, AB 1103, in January that would allow bicyclists to treat stop signs as yields.
Last month I gave the reasons why many cyclists do not come to a complete stop at every stop sign and outlined the argument that this can actually increase cyclists’ safety and improve motor vehicle traffic flow.
I expected the subject to be controversial, and the article generated more online comments than my first three columns combined. Some of the comments were negative and anticipated what I planned to say in this column. (You can view last month’s column at losaltosonline.com to see the comments, all of which I have responded to.)
This month I am sharing some of the counterarguments, which generally fall into two categories: fairness and clarity.
Many motorists will say that the rules should apply equally to everyone. That is a good starting point, but it ignores the fact that motor vehicles can do many things that bicycles cannot, and requiring cyclists to do things that they cannot safely do is counterproductive.
Acknowledging these differences, cyclists are banned from using freeways in California when there are available alternative routes, and they are required to ride as close to the right as practicable. I know from more than 40 years of experience that the motorist behind me can get through an intersection more safely, and faster, if I don’t always execute the extra steps involved in coming to a complete stop and putting my foot down. Many of my worst experiences at intersections have been due to impatient motorists cutting me off when they are irritated by my coming to a complete stop and slowing them down.
Black-and-white solutions make policing simpler (pardon the pun). The behavior of some cyclists has created the stereotype that cyclists cannot be trusted to behave on the road. This is why it upsets me to see cyclists who are deliberately or carelessly inconsiderate to motorists – they’re ruining it for all of us.
I’ve heard the opinion of a law enforcement officer that if a cyclist does not completely stop, it can create ambiguity as to his or her intentions, despite the fact that people navigate yield signs safely every day. A considerate cyclist will always be clear on his or her intentions, and there are plenty of ways to do this at an intersection.
Implementing the law
I hope that if this law passes, cyclists and motorists will adjust in a short period, just as they do at intersections controlled by a yield sign. Implementing this change in the law would legalize what most people already do, because they have learned that actually stopping and putting their foot down doesn’t necessarily contribute to their safety. Even if they haven’t consciously gone through all of the arguments that I laid out last month, most cyclists have intuited that maintaining momentum facilitates positive bike control.
Experience in Idaho has shown that this regulation can work.
If AB 1103 does not pass because of concerns about bicyclists’ bad behavior, I would hope that it would be a wake-up call to cyclists to improve their image.
Now a word on the Idaho red-light law that is not part of the proposed California legislation. I frequently encounter situations, primarily early in the morning or on weekends, when I have to wait for minutes at a red light when no one is in sight, wondering whether the traffic sensor has detected that I am there. While I am waiting, traffic accumulates. and motorists are all eager to get past me as I get back up to speed.
Although not as significant as the stop-sign safety issues I addressed earlier, the Idaho red-light law could go a long way in relieving stressful traffic conflict situations. I look forward to that law being considered in California someday – if cyclists in this state demonstrate that they can use the Idaho stop-sign law responsibly.